Cross-Border Cooperation Against the Odds?

Russian and Norwegian Grassroots Organizations in a Changed Geopolitical Environment


  • Jørn Holm-Hansen
  • Aadne Aasland



Barents Euro-Arctic Region, Arctic, cross-border, Russia, Norway


What impact did changes in the geopolitical environment have on grassroots cross-border cooperation within the Barents Euro-Arctic Region in the years before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022? Drawing on interviews, surveys and document studies from two evaluations made in 2007 and 2020 of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat’s grant programme, conducted by the authors of the present article, we analyse the development over time of cross-border cooperation in Russia’s northwestern and Norway’s northernmost regions. The context in which the programme was conducted in 2020 differed significantly from that in 2007. The period was one of increasingly strained relations between Russia and the West. In particular, the 2014 events in Ukraine resulted in a new geopolitical environment that posed a challenge to the ideals of cross-border trust and people-to-people cooperation. Moreover, internal political developments in Russia led to more centralized power structures and control, also regarding civil society. Although we had expected these developments to have had a negative impact on the programme’s goal achievement, we find that the programme was closer to achieving several of its objectives in 2020 than in 2007. Competence transfer went both ways, both sides benefitted more equally and despite the geopolitical complications, the number of groups involved on both sides of the border did not decrease. The article identifies the main challenges between partners, and how they were overcome.


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